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Italians Reject Constitutional Amendments

Italians have rejected changes in the country's post-war constitution that would, among other things, partially decentralize the government, according to final results from a national referendum. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome more than 61 percent of Italians voted "no."

The vote marked a victory for the recently installed center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who had called for a no vote. Final figures show 61.7 percent of Italians voted against the proposed changes to the Italian constitution.

Mr. Prodi campaigned against those proposals in this referendum, arguing they would wreck national unity, weaken the president and cost billions of euros.

Welcoming the result of the two-day nationwide vote in Italy, the prime minister said it was now his coalition's duty to begin a dialogue with all the political forces to discuss much needed constitutional reforms.

Prodi added that he had charged his minister for relations with parliament to begin sounding lawmakers on how to hold this dialogue on the reform of the constitution and the electoral law.

Members of the ruling coalitions said the result of the vote was a clear defeat for former conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose government drafted the reforms. Berlusconi had urged citizens to approve the changes saying it was an opportunity for Italy to modernize an antiquated constitution.

The proposed changes would have given the prime minister more power, it would have transferred authority in areas of health, education and security away from Rome and to the country's regions and it would have reduced the number of lawmakers.

The reforms were designed by the Northern League, a party in Berlusconi's center-right coalition, known for its federal vision. After the vote, some members of the opposition felt voters had misunderstood what the changes were about.

Andrea Ronchi, of the National Alliance, one of the opposition parties, said the center-right must analyze carefully what went wrong. He said the result cannot be ignored, and an understanding is needed about why the yes vote won only in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

Berlusconi was clearly disappointed with the result and called an emergency meeting with members of his centre-right bloc. Some observers say his future as opposition leader could now be put in serious question by his allies.